If only as a symbol of the trade's collective anger with United Airlines, the initiator of the latest round of draconian commission cutbacks, last week's decision by ASTA's board of directors to expel the carrier from its ranks is righteous and reasonable.

Whether the board members will decide to purge other suppliers that work against the best interests of travel agents and the traveling public remains to be seen, but there can be no better time than now for the Society to draw a bold line between friend and foe.

How's this as a workable membership guideline: If you're not with us, you're against us.

In any event, relegating United to a place of infamy with the notorious likes of the anti-agent Renaissance Cruises is one of several steps ASTA is taking in response to the proliferating ranks of the five percenters.

In addition to pinning the tail on this particular donkey, the Society said it plans to "fight back" by filing suit in Wisconsin, alleging the airlines have violated a state law governing competition; lobbying in Washington to remove antitrust immunity from the airlines, and lodging a complaint with the Transportation Department about the pay cuts.

While we applaud these and other strategic initiatives designed to reverse the airlines' present course, we cannot help concluding that lawsuits and lobbying will accomplish little or nothing in the present instance.

Rather, we agree with Carlson Leisure Group's Michael Batt, who said, "Airlines will continue to lower commissions until ... their costs [compared to ours] are substantially higher."

It is up to travel agents, by influencing their clients' travel choices and/or by shifting burdensome booking costs to the carriers' in-house res systems, to make a commissionless environment insupportable.

Can -- or will -- they do it? We certainly hope so.

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